Mobile Computing | Spotlight

Putting the iPad to Work in Elementary Classrooms

Camilla Gagliolo got the first inkling there could be some real use for iPads in the classroom when she tried them out initially with students who had learning disabilities. Today, the instructional technology coordinator with Arlington (VA) Public Schools said she thinks the iPad is emerging as a tool that can greatly enhance educational technology after what she believes has been a lull in the field's progress.

After her initial program she began for the learning-disabled students was extended to the entire elementary school student body, Gagliolo said, she was more than encouraged by the results. The combination of rich graphics, an intuitive touch screen, and lightning-fast processing speed is bringing educational technology to new levels of student engagement, she told a packed session titled The iPad Revolution: Innovative Learning in the Classroom at this year's International Society for Technology in Education conference in Philadelphia.

Gagliolo said that, during the brief period she has used the iPad in the classroom, she has found the phrase that is quickly approaching cliché status--"There's an app for that"--applies well to the elementary school environment. While most of the applications Gagliolo discussed are supplemental, she noted that some major textbook publishers are beginning to develop full textbooks specifically for the iPad. Most resources are available through Apple's iTunes U service, with others available directly from independent vendors.

More than the use of the technology to simply assess student's skills through computerized assessments, some of the most interesting applications are those that allow for student creativity and critical thinking, Gagliolo said. First- and second-grade students in Arlington are creating their own online books, complete with student-generated text and images along with links to external sites, photos and videos. The students are then publishing their work online so that parents, fellow students and their peers around the world can see it too.

The excitement with iPads that Gagliolo found in Arlington was mirrored by the educators who attended the workshop, many of whom tapped away on their own devices during the session. As has been the case with many new technologies before it, research remains to be done on whether the iPad can translate the enthusiasm into a meaningful and measurable impact on student success.

While passion is unquestionably a component to scaling a new technology initiative, all this excitement doesn't just come out of the box when a new iPad is opened, both Gagliolo and educators at the ISTE meeting agreed. "You as a teacher have to do some homework," said Amy Cobb of Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, FL. "You can't just hand a kid an iPad."

Cobb, who landed a grant to get two iPads in her classroom this coming fall said that she has spent considerable time vetting various apps and student activities. She plans to let two students have the iPad 24/7 for an entire trimester and then pass them on to others. The students with the iPads will be able to use the device for all their school assignments, including research, homework, blogging, and reading assignments.

A list of references for iPad apps can be found on Cobb's session resource site.

About the Author

Peter Levy consults for a range of educational technology providers on strategy, marketing, and business development.